By SHERWIN DE VERA
VIGAN CITY — Representatives from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) agreed to suspend all tree cutting operations along the Manila North Road.
The agencies and members of the Ilocos Sur Provincial Board Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Christopher Baterina, arrived with the arrangement during the second public hearing on the issue on September 5.
DPWH assured the body to instruct all individuals and contractors they authorized to undertake the tree-cutting activity to cease the operation.
Meanwhile, PENRO officer-in-charge Rosemarie Jornacion gave her commitment not to renew the special tree-cutting permit (STCP) issued to DPWH that will expire this month. She also guaranteed to abide by the guidelines issued by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on the removal and transfer of trees affected by DPWH.
This came a day after the lawmakers passed a resolution demanding the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Bantay to “temporarily suspend” the special tree-cutting permit given to the DPWH 1st Engineering Office. The permit gave the office authority to cut down 1,165 trees in seven municipalities of Ilocos Sur.
DPWH undertook the tree-cutting operations citing directive from Secretary Mark Villar to remove all obstructions along the 20-meter highway road right-of-way before December 31, 2019. The DENR issued the STCP also in compliance with the directive.
During the hearing, Baterina underscored that consent from the local chief executives does not constitute an endorsement from the local government. He said that public consultation and the endorsement of from the legislative departments of local governments before the issuance of STCP are necessary.
In the earlier hearing, the legislators discovered that DPWH only secured the consent of local chief executives for the operation.
The lawmaker also pointed out the conflict of interest, in asking the mayors for consent and at the same time giving them the authority to take down the trees without proper inventory and monitoring. This, he said, is prone to corruption as anybody may claim the lumber for private use.
Under the law, lumbers from felled trees affected by government projects should be stored in a depot or place under the supervision of local DENR officers, and disposed of through either auction or donation. However, DPWH and PENRO admitted that a significant number of lumber from the trees that were cut-down are now missing.
Baterina cited his encounter with a group of individuals who were cutting a tree along the road for the DPWH. According to him, the individuals undertaking the operation have no contract with DPWH and no DENR supervision, which violates the guidelines. He also discovered the men were using an unlicensed chainsaw.
He also criticized DPWH for prioritizing the removal of large trees when there are other obstructions such as shed and posts, and for leaving tree stumps that are harder to notice and dangerous for the riding public.
Board Member Mika Mendoza recommended the creation of a task force that will supervise from tree categorizing, cutting, transporting, up to the disposal of the trees.
She said this ensures that the removal of trees along the highway is following the law and accounting of the trees and lumber derived from the operation.
Mendoza also moved to create separate task forces for the first and second districts to ensure the efficient implementation of its functions.
She also reminded DPWH not to disregard established norms and laws just to comply with the deadline given by their superiors. Her comment stemmed from the disclosure of DPWH that they are burning tree stumps even if it is contrary to the provisions of the Clean Air Act to fast track their work.
The committee has yet to submit the final members of the taskforce to the provincial board for further discussion and approval. # nordis.net